Monday, December 3, 2018

First Snow

I don't know if we will have a WHITE CHRISTMAS this year. . .but we did have November snow. . .somewhat unusual for us. . .but I couldn't resist taking some photos of the WINTER SCRENERY. . .It just seems more Christmas-y with snow, doesn't it?


Friday, October 19, 2018

Welcome to Cotton County: History of State Reflected in Crop's Cultivation

Copied by Brenda Kay Wilbanks Bahn-Moore
 Brenda Kay Wilbanks Bahn-Moore posted this article on Facebook. It's a great article on how the cotton industry has changed through the years.  Thanks Brenda!
Brenda Kay Wilbanks Bahn-Moore

In our Northwest Arkansas Democrat Gazette today:
REX NELSON: Welcome to cotton country
History of state reflected in crop’s cultivation
By Rex Nelson
Posted: October 14, 2018 at 2:02 a.m.
According to the caption on the back of this postcard from 1950, Blytheville’s annual championship cotton picking contest gave $2,000 in cash prizes to the world’s best pickers.
Ray Benson of the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture is pointing out the various varieties of cotton as we drive alongside the runway of the Manila Airport in Mississippi County.
A Manila native who has been employed by the university for two decades, Benson was destined to work with cotton. His great-grandfather was the first member of his family to farm in this area.
An experienced agronomist, he has watched the evolution of the cotton industry his entire life. He helps oversee almost 30 acres of test plots at the airport. Those plots technically are part of the UA's Northeast Research & Extension Center at nearby Keiser, where 780 acres of land are controlled by the university.
Cotton is no longer king in Arkansas, but the area around Manila remains cotton country. I make the short drive from Manila to Keiser the next day. Then on to Wilson to follow U.S. 61 north through Osceola and Blytheville before returning to Manila. All along the route, fields are white with cotton as the 2018 harvest begins.
"There was a time when Mississippi County grew more cotton than any county in the country," says Benson, who received his bachelor's and master's degrees in agronomy and crop science from the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville. "I would estimate there are still 110,000 acres of cotton being raised in the county."
There were about 485,000 acres of cotton planted across the state this year, up from 445,000 acres last year. It's the third consecutive year of increased cotton acreage. Polyester, a cotton competitor, is in decline. At planting time, it was reported that Chinese farmers were having problems with their crops, which made cotton a good bet for Arkansas producers.
"We're seeing cotton in places we hadn't seen it grown in 15 to 20 years," UA extension cotton agronomist Bill Robertson said earlier this year. "Their daddies and granddaddies grew cotton, but they hadn't. The profit potential for cotton is starting to look better."
Those 485,000 acres still pale in comparison with the 3.6 million acres of soybeans and the 1.4 million acres of rice grown in Arkansas this year. A rainy September threatened cotton yields as the harvest began.
"We sit at the house and get sick every time we hear it pounding on the roof," Benson says. "One rain, one event, one time may be no big deal."
There were, however, multiple storm systems, leading Benson to say: "We need it to quit raining, dry out and get sunny pretty soon."
Arkansas' cotton harvest begins in the middle of September and sometimes runs until early November. What's now picked by huge mechanical cotton pickers once was the job of tens of thousands of sharecroppers and tenant farmers. In many ways, the history of cotton cultivation is the history of Arkansas.
In his book Empire of Cotton: A Global History, Sven Beckert notes that "the entry of the United States into the empire of cotton was so forceful that cotton cultivation in the American South quickly began to reshape the global cotton markets."
Consider these facts:
-- In 1790, three years before Eli Whitney invented the cotton gin, the United States produced 1.5 million pounds of cotton.
-- By 1800, the United States produced 36.5 million pounds. That number was up to 167.5 million pounds by 1820.
-- By 1802, the United States had become the most important supplier of cotton to the British market.
-- By 1857, the United States was producing almost as much cotton as China.
"American upland cotton, which Whitney's gin worked up so efficiently, was exceedingly well suited to the requirements of British manufacturers," Beckert writes. "When the gin damaged the fiber, the cotton remained suitable for the production of cheaper, coarser yarns and fabrics in demand among the lower classes in Europe and elsewhere. But for American supplies, the miracles of mass production of yarn and cloth, and the ability of new consumers to buy these cheap goods, would have foundered on old realities of the traditional cotton market. The much-vaunted consumer revolution in textiles stemmed from a dramatic transformation in the structure of plantation slavery."
The blackland prairies of southwest Arkansas were the center of cotton production in the state before the Civil War, making Washington in Hempstead County a key place for trade. It wasn't until well after the Civil War that most of the swamps were drained and the hardwood timber was cut from the vast bottomland hardwood forests of east Arkansas. Once that occurred, the Arkansas Delta became an integral part of the South's cotton empire. In the early 1900s, the Wilson Plantation in Mississippi County was one of the largest cotton plantations in the world.
Beckert explains that the westward expansion of the cotton empire "occurred in two distinct ways. Cotton production expanded into the remote hinterlands of older American cotton states such as Georgia and the Carolinas, now made accessible by railroads, where white upcountry farmers began growing much larger quantities. In the South Atlantic states, annual production, for example, increased by a factor of 3.1 between 1860 and 1920. In Tennessee, Alabama and Mississippi, by contrast, annual cotton production stayed level until the end of the century and declined by about 25 percent by 1920 due to the exhaustion of cotton soils and the emergence of more productive cotton-growing areas farther west.
"Yet even despite the tired soil, cotton production dramatically expanded in some areas, such as in the Yazoo-Mississippi Delta, where large numbers of African Americans cultivated cotton, enabled by new railroads, canals and levees. As a result, by 1900, one of the most highly specialized cotton-producing areas in the world emerged. The most dramatic expansion of cotton agriculture, however, occurred farther to the west."
Production in Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma and Texas went from 1,576,594 bales in 1860 to 7,283,000 bales by 1920.
As the 20th century dawned, the size of Arkansas Delta plantations was becoming larger. Plantation owners employed hundreds and sometimes thousands of tenant farmers and sharecroppers.
"A typical Arkansas cotton tenant, black or white, rented 40 acres from a landowner and farmed with his own mules, harrow, planter and family for labor," Van Hawkins writes for the Encyclopedia of Arkansas History & Culture. "Landowners got about one-fourth of the crop with the remainder going to the tenant. At the lower end of the tenant food chain, a sharecropper lacked equipment and capital so he farmed with landlord-supplied equipment and capital. Typically, his family received only 50 percent of the crop and had to buy supplies and personal items from plantation commissaries, sometimes at high markups.
"Sharecroppers, particularly African Americans who lacked mobility due to race, did little more than survive. They generally had little cash after settling up with landlords and often found themselves deeper in debt to the company store."
Major cotton-related events in Arkansas history included the Lee County cotton picker strike of 1891, the Elaine Massacre of 1919 and the formation of the Southern Tenant Farmers' Union in 1934 as tension between landowners and tenant farmers grew.
"Profitable cotton prices, sometimes as high as 30 cents a pound, crashed along with the stock market at the beginning of the Great Depression," Hawkins writes. "There was a drought of financing as banks closed and five-cent cotton devastated state producers. In 1933, the U.S. government devised a program to pay farmers for plowing up cotton acreage to reduce supply and, theoretically, create higher prices. The program made plow-up payments directly to landowners and directed them to share the money with tenants. Some owners chose to evict tenants rather than share payments, which set in motion numerous conflicts between planters and tenants."
Along with the growth of cotton acreage in Arkansas came social and demographic changes. The burden of segregation and the loss of work due to the mechanization of cotton farming ensured that Arkansas would be a leading participant in what's known as the Great Migration of blacks from the rural South. A severe drought in 1930-31 and low cotton prices also drove white sharecroppers out of the state. It was a trend that would continue for several decades. Arkansas lost a larger percentage of its population from 1940-60 than any other state. Nationally, about 6 million blacks fled the South from 1915-70.
In her Pulitzer Prize-winning book The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration, Isabel Wilkerson writes: "The Great Migration ran along three main tributaries and emptied into reservoirs all over the North and West. One stream carried people from the coastal states of Florida, Georgia, the Carolinas and Virginia up the Eastern seaboard to Washington, Philadelphia, New York, Boston and their satellites. A second current traced from the central spine of the continent, paralleling the Father of Waters, from Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee and Arkansas to the industrial cities of Cleveland, Detroit, Chicago, Milwaukee, Pittsburgh. A third and later stream carried people from Louisiana and Texas to the entire West Coast, with some black Southerners traveling farther than many modern-day immigrants."
Wilkerson notes that by the mid-1930s, some grade-school classrooms for blacks in Milwaukee had almost every student from Arkansas, Mississippi or Tennessee. The out-migration continues to this day in most Arkansas Delta counties, some of which now have less than half the population they had in 1950. Monroe County lost a larger percentage of its residents--more than 20 percent--between the 2000 census and the 2010 census than any other Arkansas county.
The irony is that the land in these Delta counties is more valuable than ever, producing bumper crops most years of soybeans, rice, cotton, corn, wheat and grain sorghum. Arkansas farmers are among the best in the world at what they do. They're so efficient, in fact, that they need few employees. Land that once required hundreds of sharecroppers and tenant farmers to chop and pick cotton can now be farmed with just a handful of laborers.
Cotton still generated about a third of Arkansas' agricultural income in the early 1960s. By the 1980s, it was down to about 20 percent. In 2015, cotton acreage was the lowest on record in Arkansas with 205,000 acres planted. That number was up to 360,000 acres in 2016.
The uptick continued in 2017 and this year. Arkansas usually ranks in the top six states nationally when it comes to cotton production. Cotton has lived on as an important crop in Arkansas, but it never will have the influence it once had in shaping the state's economy and history.
Editorial on 10/14/2018

From The Duncan Farmstead Files

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Harvest Broom Making and Storytelling at the Company Store

" . . . .I love the activity harvest time brings to our old company store, where each year friends and family gather for a day filled with the folk traditions of broom making and storytelling. The sweet smell of field straw, dried grasses, and cornhusks fills the air, as we diligently work to make brooms and whisks from the mounds of natural materials harvested from the ditch banks and end rows. Turkey wing and hawk tail whisks, pot scrubbers and cake testers, clothes whisk and brush brooms fill our list. . ."
 The 2018 Fall Issue of Country Rustic is out. . .and can be found for the first time on news stands across the country. . .We are all so proud of it. . .I suppose you can tell who is in the photos. . .Yes. . .That's John. . .He was so enthusiastic about the article I wrote about making brooms that he volunteered for a photo shoot. . .Of course, it didn't take much arm twisting. . .He loves to dress in costume and interpret the folk crafts. . .And. . .I love writing about them. . .Not only do I tell about our broom making each fall, I can't resist a couple of good stories about yard sweeping and its connection to the Delta. . .

Unfortunately, I can't share the whole article with you, but you can order copies at: 

or you can pick up a copy at many news stands. . .

I'll also be sharing parts of my Summer article with you soon. . .It's a story of the old post office, dedicated to Mrs. Brownlee, who was Dell's postmaster for many years. . .

Our Mississippi County Delta is gaining national recognition because of these stories and features. . .In October, there will be a photo shoot at our Country Farm Home which will be featured in the 2019 Fall Issue. . .bringing even more interest to our little community. . .Hope you will enjoy the upcoming events along with us. . .

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Playing With Angels

Last week I lost my Boo to Addison's disease. . ..It broke my heart, even though he lived many, many more years with the disease than any other animal of the Pfizer Research program. . .We prepared ourselves for 'the call'. . .'just not today, Lord'. . .But the day did come. . .and typical of Boo, he did it his way. . .He simply went to sleep and decided not to return from the peace he must have found. . .

My constant feline friend and companion, Boo was velcro to me from the time I brought him home from the shelter. I knew he was special the first moment I saw him. I knew he was destined for great things. . .He wasn't here more than six weeks when he stopped a potential house fire by hounding John until John followed him to the fireplace where a burning log had rolled out on the floor. . .It was just one of the many so-called miracles that happened with Boo around. . .And. . .it wasn't long until we saw him play with something unseen--but very real to Boo. . I admit that the first time we observed Boo playing with 'the air' we were a little taken back. He was obviously focusing on something the human eye could not see. After a short time, he'd begin to run and jump into the air, talking to his visions at the same time. This could go on for a while and became our entertainment. . .'Go get em, Boo!' John would encourage. . .but Boo was oblivious to anything but the ones who were engaging him to play. . ..Finally, one day John and I looked at each other and agreed to a thought we both had had all along. . .'Looks like Boo is playing with Angels' . .There was no other explanation. . .

There was something special about Boo that touched many people's hearts--actually anyone who knew him. . .Everyone had an endearing story to tell. . .bringing smiles as they told it. . . He had a way of staying happy and giving kisses no matter how bad he felt. . .And, everyone knew about his kisses. . .BOO KISSES. . . It would be hard living without them.

As I thought about this the first night without him, I was standing in the bathroom and out of the corner of my eye, I thought I saw the throw rug fluff up a little. . .on it's own. . .Did I?. . No. . .It couldn't be. . .Could it? . .I finally passed it off as my eyes being tired and swollen from the tears earlier. . .But, the next day, there was no denying it. . .Something 'strange was going on. . .

It was a normal, busy morning. . .I was doing office work and taxes at the kitchen table. . .while it rained tons outside the window. . .a dull, depressing day. . .Even with paperwork, I thought of my Boo. . .I have a habit of throwing discarded paper, junk mail, and opened envelops on the floor beside me. . .One of Boo's favorite pastimes was to find strips of paper and wadded balls to scatter all over the house. . .


I was smiling to myself as I walked into the bathroom, thinking about those wads of paper I'd find in the oddest places, deciding I should clear out Boo's food and bowls while I had the courage. . .The minute I walked into the room, I stopped in my tracks. . .There on the floor was that same throw rug but this time it was rippled up as only Boo could do it . .He would run and slide into the rug with his front legs under the rug, causing the rippling effect. . .That's exactly how the rug now laid. . .No one had been in that room since early morning and the rug definitely wasn't in such a state as I now found it. . .

'Boo?". . .'Is that you?' 
Whether it was real or my imagination, I felt a BOO KISS firmly planted on my face. . .
I kid you not. . .

.'Love you, too, Boo.'
tears again. . .

We brought Boo home the day after that call. . .His final resting place is at our Little Chapel in the Field. . .That day. . .and days since. . .I couldn't help but think how we each have our place in time. . .and if we do our best to fulfill our purpose. . .we can change others lives for the better. . .I truly believe this. . .and I believe it's not only humans who come to this earth for a reason. . .It was obvious Boo had a special one. . .He contributed tremendously in the research for Addison's. . .Because of him, humans and animals have benefited and are living longer lives with the disease. . .There is hope, where before the disease always won much quicker than it does now. . .He also enriched John's and my life, just knowing him. . .In fact, I've learned a lot about life from Boo. . .including how to continue on each day and be happy no matter how bad things might be. . .I've learned the need of us all to make a connection with someone special. . .and how important it is to give those so dear all the kisses they can handle. . .I've learned that every living thing leaves a legacy. . .Whether it's good or bad is up to each one. . .And most of all, I've learned that life can be so full of joy if we'll remember to play with Angels every now and then. . .

No more sickness. . .No more needles. . .No more midnight runs to the vet. . .

He's PLAYING WITH THE ANGELS. . .now. . .and forever. . .

That is. . .when he's not fluffing the bathroom rug. . .or planting secret kisses. . .


In Memory of  My
25 September 2006-18 February 2018



Saturday, January 20, 2018

SEASONED SOUTHERN STYLE: Introduction to the Multicultural Influence of Delta Foodways

Free printable Antique Graphic ~via

One thing Northeast Arkansas Delta people have in common is their love of food. We came from different ethnic cultures, different states, and often had different attitudes about life. We attended various churches, came from diverse social backgrounds, or had different goals in life. . .But when it came to food, we were pretty much agreed. . .It didn't have to be gourmet from Julia Child's Cookbook. . .nor did it need to be plated 'fancy'. . .We wanted it to taste good and have plenty of it. . .And we boasted to others about the superior Southern cooks found in our little town of Dell.

Free Printable Antique Advertisement Borden's Milk from KNICK OF TIME @ knickoftime.netI would say the diversity of our foodways included multicultural cuisine. We might have a pot of gumbo (Louisiana influenced) for lunch one day. . .Beans, cornbread and greens (mostly African American influenced) the next. . .On Sundays roast venison (Native American influence) with Southern dressing cooked in the style of our ancestors.  From the Mexicans, who came seasonally to chop and pick cotton, we learned the art of making their spicy dishes. Once in a while, they would honor us in sending Daddy home with 'real' hot tamales. Although we borrowed spaghetti sauce recipes from our Northern friends, true to the South, we made it our own with spices such as chili powder and bay leaves. And some of us called that sauce 'Red Gravy'--a New Orleans term.
There is no doubt that Delta foodways are a blending of many cultures. In 2013, our friend Cindy Grisham* published an extraordinary book, The History of Arkansas Delta Food (see below). She had visited with us earlier in the year, interviewing me about the traditions my own family had passed down. I was honored that once the book was published, my family foodways  was a significant part of it. I thought that I might share just one excerpt, with Cindy's permission, of course. I think that this will help explain the basis of my concept of SEASONED SOUTHERN STYLE. . .and what has influenced the family recipes that I'll be sharing. Duncan spent years working as a costumed interpreter at Colonial Williamsburg in Virginia before deciding to return home a few years ago. She and her husband, John Holt, came back to the family farm at Dell in northeast Mississippi Country (Arkansas). . .John was a veteran of Colonial Williamsburg, as well as a native of the Smithville region of Virginia, home of the famous Smithfield hams. Not content to give up their lives as historical interpreters, the two decided to return the farm back to its appearance during the 1930s, when it was the center of life for a number of cotton-growing families and life was slower and considerably different. . .
Today, they make their home in the old farm manager's house and have restored several old farm structures that they use to interpret life in the Delta of Arkansas during the Great Depression. Included in the collection is Smith's General Store, which Dru grew up shopping in and which now sits across the driveway from the house, furnished like it was during times gone by.
A food historian and interpreter, Dru said that her research leads her to believe that much of the tradition food eaten in northeast Arkansas is Native American, African, or French. The French controlled the Mississippi Valley early on, and their influence is felt not only in the food but also in place names like the L'Anguille and Cache Rivers and Bayou de View. Even the name of the state itself has French origins.
Dru grew up on the traditional food, learning to cook from her mother and grandmother. Although her grandmother, Alice Ruddle Magers, owned a copy of the White house Cook Book, which is among Dru's many treasures, the women cooked without assistance, the recipes having been committed to memory from years of preparation.
Her grandmother was schooled in the art of food preparation by her older half-sister, Emma Ellis Liggett, who raised the younger woman after the deaths of her parents. Emma Liggett operated a boarding house and dining room at the corner of Second and Jefferson Streets in Dell for many years, and family members reported that there would be lines of people into the street in the evenings as they waited to dine there. The train crews from the Jonesboro, Lake City& Eastern Railroad would even time their routes so they would be in Dell at dinner time each evening and could stop and eat one of Aunt Emma's meals. Emma later followed her husband, Will, to Poinsett Country, where she operated a boardinghouse on a houseboat on the St. Francis River.
Aunt Emma taught Grandmother Magers how to cook the variety of wild game that often made up the menu during Dru's childhood. Dru said that her dove was 'to die for.' Among the wild caught foods that graced the family table were fish, frogs (legs), and turtles from nearby Pemiscot Bayou or Big Lake. Hugh puppies were a usual side for the fish, and Dru said that every family has a different recipe that they guard closely.
The fish and game would be accompanied by another wild dish, poke sallet, a native plant also known as pokeweed. Poke sallet contains toxins that must be cooked away to make it safe to eat. Dru said that her family always cooked it twice, draining off the water both times, before frying it with bacon drippings. She said that it was generally served on a slab of cornbread with boiled eggs sliced over the top and potlikker poured on top of that. Now, if you are not familiar with poke sallet and you just have to try the Magers family recipe, then substitute spinach or another of the milder-flavored greens. It isn't worth the risk of life and limb. I gave it a try, though, and I must say that it was absolutely delicious.
Baker's flavoring extracts
Dru said that meals in her home while growing up always included beans, corn, greens, turnips and the ever popular purple hull peas, which were eaten first in season or preserved for winter use. The family first put up the peas by canning but later switched to freezing when proper refrigeration was available, which preserved the fresh taste better.
Cornbread was the daily bread in her family, although her grandmother always made a batch of her special biscuits on Sunday. Almost every family had a garden, and at one time, the land that now almost exclusively grows cotton grew vegetables on a commercial basis. Nearby, Blytheville was once home to a Bush's cannery, and Dru said that many families grew a field of some type of vegetable to sell to them. There was a beet farm right outside Dell along the highway. She said you could always tell when they were canning greens at the factory because it would stink up the whole county.

The nearby Pemiscot Bayou was a source of protein due to the fish, frogs, and turtles. Wild game was also plentiful at the time. Another meat-centered meal that she says was very common in that area was baked bologna. A while stick of bologna would be basted with barbecue sauce or mustard, depending on the cook's preference, then baked brown, sliced and served. John said that it wasn't a dish that he had ever heard of back in Virginia but admitted to liking it a great deal.
Antique Graphics Wednesday - 1910 Gelatin AdvertisementDru had a few food preferences that her mother was not particularly happy about and did not like to indulge. The first was for head cheese (souse), which she loved and would beg her mother to buy for her at the same grocery store that now sits on her lawn. While her mother refused to treat her, Mr. Smith at the store would always get her attention and slip her a slice of it on a cracker.
She also loved a concoction called Rex Jelly, which she said was a berry-flavored creation that came in huge jars and cost very little. Mr. Smith would take orders in the mornings from the schoolchildren at both the black and white schools for peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and he made them from that wonderful Rex Jelly. Dru unfortunately lived in town and had to go home for lunch every day and so was denied her treat, much to her dismay. . .

Hampton Art Cling Stamp 1 from Home Sweet Home, a new collection from Graphic 45. Look for this in stores in mid-February! #graphic45 #sneakpeeks #CHAShow

I want to thank Cindy for helping to preserve the history of our Delta foodways. As far as I know, there are no other books highlighting this subject about Northeast Arkansas. I hope she'll write more in the future. . .We need people like her so that our local history isn't lost forever.
 vintage baking clip art, black and white graphics, girl and mother bake illustration, antique school reader page, old book page printable
I'll be back soon with new. . .yet vintage. . .recipes from my family and the Delta, as well as more insights into the development of our common foodways.

Of course, you'll want to read more of Cindy's* book. She features many others of the Delta, as well as recipes for old favorites such as Chocolate Gravy, Hominy, Cherokee Succotash, Arkansas Cole Slaw, Poke Sallat and Eggs, Tomato Gravy, and more. . .
Up and down the Arkansas Delta, food tells a story. Whether the time Bill Clinton nearly died on the way to a coon dinner or the connections made over biscuits and gravy or the more common chicken and dumpling feuds, the area is no stranger to history. One of America's last frontiers, it was settled in the late nineteenth century by a rough-and-tumble collection of timber men, sharecroppers and entrepreneurs from all over the world who embraced the traditional foodways and added their own twists. Today, the Arkansas Delta is the nation's largest producer of rice and adds other crops like catfish and sweet potatoes. Join author Cindy Grisham* for this delicious look into Delta cuisine.
*Dr. Cindy Grisham is a historian living in Benton, Arkansas, and is the former interpreter for the Southern Tenant Farmers Museum and the Parkin Archeological State Park. A native of the Missouri Ozarks, Dr. Grisham earned an MA and PhD in Heritage Studies from Arkansas State, as well as an additional MA in political science.